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Article published Jul 16, 2013

Pilot dies in helicopter crash

Photo by: Sam Green/Cortez Journal
A helicopter involved in seismic testing crashed southeast of Dove Creek Tuesday morning, killing the pilot, who was the only one onboard.

By Jim Mimiaga Journal staff writer

A helicopter crashed at a remote oil-and-gas construction site southeast of Dove Creek Tuesday morning. The pilot did not survive.

The Huey-style helicopter was part of a construction crew conducting seismic testing for Kinder Morgan, according to officials at the scene. The Bell UH-1H Iroquois was registered to Billings (Mt.) Flying Service.

The crash occurred on rolling BLM land interspersed with pine trees off of County Road 15, north of County Road M, in Dolores County.

Another large construction helicopter sat nearby the wreckage and appeared unharmed. It was not known whether it was involved in the accident.

The pilot was the only person onboard the helicopter. No one else was injured in the crash, but flying debris hit a ground crew member in the backpack, according to a news release by the Dolores County Sheriff's Office.

Witnesses who were in close proximity to the crash said they heard a loud "pop" and then saw the helicopter "plunge a short distance to the ground."

Area fire crews, including the BLM, responded to the scene but there was no fire around the crumpled white aircraft.

Dolores County coroner Joyce Barnett described the crash site as "devastating."

She said the victim was a Montana man in his 30s. Accoding to the Billings Gazette, Barnett later identified him as A.J. Blain.

"We lost a good friend and co-worker," said a construction crew member at the scene who did not give his name.

Dolores County Sheriff Jerry Martin said the crash is under investigation by his office, the BLM, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Transportation Safety Board.

"It is too early in the investigation as to the cause," Sheriff Martin said. "All aspects of the accident will be looked into, and the NTSB will look into the soundness of the aircraft."

Aviation investigators were on their way to the site, he said.

A worker at the scene explained that the construction helicopter works with a ground crew to move large seismic sensors to different locations to check for oil and gas reserves underground.

"They fly at low elevations - it may have lost lift," he said.

As part of expanded operations, Kinder Morgan has increased seismic testing operations in the area, often in remote locations.

"My observations of them in the last couple of years is that they are really excellent pilots," Sheriff Martin said.